The 'Why Do Marvel's Movies Look Kind of Ugly?' Video is Flat Wrong—Here's Why

Marvel Flat CloseCredit: Marvel
This video essay makes some controversial claims about the color grading of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and we set the record straight.

At the end of Patrick (H) Willems' video below, he invites users to respond if they think he's being too much of a nitpicky nerd. That's not the problem with the video, though; it's that he's not being nerdy enough, completely missing major points about color grading and even contradicting himself in the video.

Before the flaws, though, it is exciting (for nerds like me) to see any discussion of color grading in the larger public conversation, especially one that acknowledges how much subjective decision making comes into play. This video clearly comes from a place of love for the subject matter and a desire to see the execution of a project improved. That's great. Unfortunately, the creator gets basically everything else possible to get wrong about color wrong in this case.

Color is an image isn't just up to the colorist, it's a complex result of decisions made all the way back to the script stage.

Contempt 3 Colors, also, looks a bit like the French Flag, which is probably not coincidental.Credit: Contempt

First off, one of the huge flaws with this video is the claim that color grading started in the year 2001 with O Brother, Where Art Thou?. While that is a beautifully graded movie that brought a lot of attention to digital color grading, it's by no means the invention of the practice. The Cell (2000) and Pleasantville (1998) both had extensive digital image manipulation that could be considered color grading. Commercials and music videos had been digitally manipulating color for decades.  And analogue manipulation of color in cinema goes back to the beginning of the art. The opening sequence of Contempt (1963) shows two lovers in bed, and dramatically changes colors in the middle of the sequence, among countless other examples of manipulating color.

Mushy Marvel ConcreteCredit: Marvel

Secondly, Willems misunderstands the power of color grading within the overall image creation chain. For instance, when discussing the still above, the video makers says "it just looks like mushy concrete."  Which, well, it is. Concrete. It's an airport. A silver one. The production designer, director, and location scout had as much to do with that image looking the way it does as the colorist. Even if it was a CGI scene, the VFX artist choosing a dull white airport versus a vibrant airport (Denver, against the mountains, or Incheon with its glass reflecting a beautiful blue sky) is as much a part of the image creation as the grade is. There's not a lot of color there to pop, which is why it isn't surprising that later in the video, when doing "test scenes" to show your proposed grade, you don't use this scene. Because popping the saturation and crunching the blacks here won't make nearly the dramatic transition it does to most shots. Color is an image isn't just up to the colorist, it's a complex result of decisions made all the way back to the script stage (choosing to write the scene at an airport, say, and not in the middle of a paint factory).

Kick Ass 2 Subway Entrance. Notice they choose a very red subway entrace; most NYC subways are not this vibrant, but location scouting (or perhaps production design) added color.Credit: Kick Ass 2
Additionally, Willems goes back and forth on whether it's the cameras fault. He traces the change to when Marvel went Alexa, and suggests that the Red Helium could be a solution or going back to film might fix it. He also references other Alexa shot productions that look fantastic by his subjective standards, with deep rich blacks. The Alexa is perfectly capable of achieving a solid crunch; for proof, just watch any of the recent films of Nicholas Winding Refn, who uses the Alexa frequently.

Scene from Neon Demon. Refn and his cinematographers and colorists also use the Red Epic, but rely primarily on the Alexa.Credit: Neon Demon

Also, even film can be flat and low contrast, as a rewatch of Lost in Translation (2003) clearly display. Cameras are tools for achieving an end, and while they set boundaries on what can be achieved (your iPhone probably can't create footage as beautiful as the Alexa 65 footage of The Revenant), there is still a tremendous amount of room to manipulate an image within that space, and it's your creative goal that matters more than the tool you use to achieve it.

The same way fashion changes with time, image aesthetics have trends and movements in time.

The author seems to have missed the concept of taste changing through time. The same way fashion changes with time, image aesthetics have trends and movements in time. A '70s movie tends to be a little warmer and a little flatter than we would shoot today. Color movies from the '50s tend to be much more saturated than they would be today. '80s movies are a hair pastel. These aesthetic trends are always the collision of many elements, with technology meeting personality (the Techniolor company, and Natalie Kalmus in particular, insisted on saturated colors as marketing for Technicolor, for instance), meeting nostalgia, meeting randomness and the preferences of crowds.

Technicolor Showing OffCredit: Technicolor/Wizard of Oz

Somewhere around 2010, things started to get "flat." Everywhere. This wasn't happening just in Marvel movies and music videos, but fashion editorial spreads, car ads, almost everywhere that you saw commercial images. Maybe it was driven by Instagram, or maybe Instagram was a response to it, but tastes changed. Marvel's imagery changed along with it. Not everybody goes with the trend (Refn, among many others, has different goals), but it's not surprising to see color grading for a major, mass-appeal movie series to reflect the current taste in grading.  

An argument is made that most music videos look the same because the filmmakers don't want to take the time to fix them—to overcome the mental bias of how flat the dailies look—but to say that everyone leaves Alexa "flat" just because it's easier is unreasonable; this video itself proves that literally five seconds of tweaks can add more "crunch" and "pop" to an image. Is every single music video director, DP, and colorist too unsophisticated, or too lazy, to do that?  The simpler explanation is that it's just what "now" looks like. It's a look that, when we look back at these movies from 2050 will make it seem very millennial, the same way that when we watch a 70s movie with too much diffusion we can immediately identify when it was made.

Nashville. This movie will always look like the 1970s, even if an argument could be made that country music demands more saturated colors, it still reflects it's time.Credit: Nashville.

Especially disappointing is that this discussion of color specifically mentions that all the Marvel films are graded by the same person, but leaves out anything about who that person is. That colorist is Steven J. Scott, longtime eFilm colorist who made the move to Technicolor in 2012. Mr. Scott worked on Iron Man 1, 2 and 3, handling the digital transition for the franchise, and has a deep handle on navigating complex, VFX-heavy workflows. In the capable hands of that colorist, working with the same Alexa camera platform (though the larger sensor variant), the rich, poppy cinematography of The Revenant was created. If the directors, DPs, and studio big wig Kevin Feige wanted, they could easily have rich blacks. They've chosen not to. You can totally disagree with that choice, but don't put the blame where it doesn't belong—on the cameras, or a lack of technical sophistication on the part of any member of the crew.

 You can totally disagree with that choice, but don't put the blame where it doesn't belong.

One interesting trend, that I suspect we'll see more of, is fan grades of movies. If fans are willing to take the time to recut the prequel trilogy of Star Wars, I suspect more and more fans will take the time to regrade their favorite films closer to how they want them to look; in fact, there is already a fan grade of Superman. But having a different decision about what a film should look like than the studio or director doesn't make the studio wrong.  Yes, the argument could be made that comic books have inkers, which create rich blacks that should be emulated in the films, but that argument feels weak.  

Even if you can point to the source material as a reason for a particularly aesthetic choice, that doesn't immediately say you have to match the source look in an adaptation, since even the most faithful adaptations will inevitably change something to accommodate for the needs of different media. Films are different from comics; if nothing else there is no inker. While some directors will want to mimic that aspect of comics, others will focus on different visual cues, as Ang Lee did with his (wildly unpopular) use of split screens in his version of The Hulk. Mimicking comics in film simply doesn't always work.

Ang Lee Hulk Split Screen

Mr. Willems, you seem like a nice guy, and you care about color grading, but we hope you use this as a chance to become an even bigger, nitpickier nerd in the future.     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


Really great read. Thank you guys so much for writing a thorough breakdown and analysis of this flawed video, instead of just re-posting it blindly like everyone else has done. Excited to see more critical content like this!

November 23, 2016 at 3:04PM

Oren Soffer
Director of Photography

Agree with you here, nice to see a good discussion that is still polite, with some strong arguments.

November 24, 2016 at 4:15AM

Gerbert Floor
DP / Director / Camera / Editor

I saw this video and found it interesting but did feel that something was amiss. I know that some people love to bump the contrast and saturation but that doesn't always produce a desirable result. I totally agree with what you say about the current style of color grading being flat. It's mostly just a trend in my opinion.

November 23, 2016 at 3:36PM, Edited November 23, 3:36PM


Geez, talk about punching down. Did you really need to write an attack piece against some random YouTuber? All to come to the aid of poor, defenseless Marvel Studios?

You couldn't have, I don't know, written an educational piece on color grading, highlighting the work of Stephen Scott?

November 23, 2016 at 3:36PM, Edited November 23, 3:36PM


> Geez, talk about punching down. Did you really need to write an attack piece against some random YouTuber? All to come to the aid of poor, defenseless Marvel Studios?

Punching down? Because "No Film School" is some media giant? It's not much more than a popular indie website, and not that different than a popular personal blog or youtube channel.

Second, "poor, defenseless Marvel Studios"? Because big studios are not to be defended against falsehoods? What's this, "down with the Man, 2016 edition"?

November 25, 2016 at 12:30AM


I thought it was a fair critique. A lot of up and coming filmmakers look to these video essays for education. Unfortunately, there are essays that are not researched well and contain inaccurate information. This isn't so much a defense of Marvel, but protecting those who are learning and don't know any better. I think we should always give critiques to videos like this, but in a clear and respectful manner. I found this article to be a respectful critique.

November 25, 2016 at 8:55AM, Edited November 25, 8:55AM


You're both wrong by stating anyone is wrong when making a grading choice (Marvel) or having an opinion about it (and actually having some valid points).

November 23, 2016 at 3:43PM, Edited November 23, 3:44PM


This article has finally pushed me into making an account for your fantastic website.

Thank you for writing this. That awful video has been driving me crazy - and it seems to be everywhere. The author of the video isn't even a good colorist. As you have written he is clearly just crushing the blacks and boosting the saturation. How does making every human look like they have jaundice look more appealing to anyone? According to him every frame of every film should just look like a Michael Bay / late stage Tony Scott movie.

I feel like he is someone who has just discovered log and has improperly determined that the (mostly beautiful) Marvel movies were just left in that raw form. It really is an insane assumption. He is stepping past the point of "critical analysis" and into the realm of know-it-all-but-actually-know-nothing film student.

It's insulting to people who actually work in the industry. He sounds like a child... "I THINK DIS COLOR SHOULD BE MORE LIKE DIS COLOR SO DIS COLOR IS WROOOOOOOOOONG"

The thing that bothers me the most is that this video has been posted everywhere - and bloggers seem to be echoing this awful opinion!

Thanks for the smart take on this dumb video.

November 23, 2016 at 4:16PM, Edited November 23, 4:18PM


Thanks! Glad this article got you to make an account, and hopefully you'll chime in the discussion on more articles in the future.

November 30, 2016 at 8:41AM

Charles Haine
Filmmaker, Tech Nerd

Great post Michael

December 1, 2016 at 12:16PM

James Manson

'Why Do Marvel's Movies Look Kind of Ugly?' - well... I don't think they do. They look real, like the comparison to Sicario that was made in the video above. I think you see flicks like DC's BVS and the like that have the comic book feel, and it looks cool, but Marvel is showing you comic book characters in our world. They are saying, "look, this is happening across the street, in the city you live in. When you go outside you might see these guys in action!" And I dig that.

November 23, 2016 at 4:19PM, Edited November 23, 4:19PM

Josh Knepper
Director of Photography

Yes! Which was always Stan Lee's philosophy for the Marvel heroes in the first place. I'm a big believer in different methods for different mediums, but you could argue the flat look for these movies actually makes it more true to the comics than not in this sense.

November 28, 2016 at 1:00PM, Edited November 28, 1:00PM

Gabriel James Edwards
Filmmaker | Composer

Certainly not going to agree with this YouTuber on all points, but I will admit that many of the Marvel films could look a heck of a lot better. I think his argument was a bit off because his attempt to back up his viewpoint with a technical argument was flawed. But, let's be honest NFS: these films do NOT look great - Captain America, specifically. And while, yes, judging the coloring of a film is a largely subjective, there are a lot of films that have been made in the last 10 or 15 years that stand out as coloring standards; and none of the Marvel films are in contention.

November 23, 2016 at 4:27PM, Edited November 23, 4:29PM


Maybe it's all a trick to make you feel some way about RED or Alexa, a grass roots fake campaign to either side with the youtube and buy a RED or reverse psychology to make you disagree with the youtube and purchase and Alexa. I watched that whole thing and all I can think about are the cameras he was talking about.

November 23, 2016 at 5:00PM

asa martinez
Camera Movement Tech, Camera Operator

Nah, guy was promoting RED hard core.

November 24, 2016 at 1:06AM


The essay basically loses me once he mentions that he's excited to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 moving to the Red Helium as it'll (apparently) solve all of their grading issues ... even though he mentions earlier on that it's not the camera. He does raise some good points, though. I've rarely walked out of a Marvel film singing praises towards its cinematography and overall visual aesthetic. Batman v Superman, however, whichever way you feel about it, is a gorgeous film to look at.

One last note about this article about the reference made to the "Man of Steel in Color" video; as a fan of that movie, I immediately picked up that they desaturated the "original" footage. They actually altered the original footage to look dull and then tried to pass off their insanely ludicrous grade as the far superior option. No wonder they took it down.

November 23, 2016 at 5:57PM

Kori Reay-Mackey

Great article NFS. It's always hard to call out a peer on bad work but his video was a mess of misinformation.

I would love to see him repost the video with corrections and put some more research/time into it. I think his opinions were valid but he treats his opinions like fact. OF COURSE, a flat image can look better with color correction - but they made a choice to have an "ugly" image and he treats it as if they had a creative oversight.

November 23, 2016 at 9:11PM


Thanks for sharing this. I feel most of us are overwhelmed with those powerful tools of colour grading. I have seen people even trying to white balance a beautiful sunset. Most of us miss out that the colour grading is for aiding the emotion of the story or to create an ambience which could not be achieved otherwise... anyway, colour grading is also personal... learners will always learn from others mistake and comments.
Thanks to the commenters for sharing their views on this 'blackboard of no film school'. We are learning, realizing and eventually improve and implement...

November 23, 2016 at 11:12PM, Edited November 23, 11:12PM

Dibyendu Joardar
Director of Photography

"Color is an image isn't just up to the colorist, it's a complex result of decisions made all the way back to the script stage."

Well said. And good article important to be told. For a nerd watching comic books movies and argues with other nerds on the interwebs about who would win between fictional characters as if the world will collapse, that must be hard fact to grasp. Watch some other video essays, learn some video editing, pick a controversial topic such as comic book movies, which is matter of life and death to other nerds, and you got yourself over half a million views. Easy peasy.

It would seem that concern expressed by John P. Hess from was well placed. After Every Frame a Painting video esseys became more mainstream and popular, everyone is a video essayist it seems, thinking that only thing it takes is nice voice over and fancy editing. But its quite clear that this video forgot to do its Due diligence and do its homework. I'm sure we will see more and more cleverly edited video essays with shallow substance in the near future. It has become a popularity contest not a genuine desire to make a difference with all the hassle of endless research that entails. One must be very careful these days, not to fall for looks and miss the substance of video content found online. What's the expression, form follows function, is the way it should be, not the other way around.

November 24, 2016 at 12:27AM, Edited November 24, 12:33AM

Cinematographer, storyteller.

My reaction to the writer: . Saw the video yesterday, it was utter garbage. Loved when he was saying he's unbiased on cameras, then goes to promote RED. RED fanboy much. He also confuses the Helium 8k sensor with the VV 8k Sensor that was being used on Guardians of the Galaxy. Then he starts naming the people who work with RED cameras and completely ignores the exponentially bigger market of big time filmmakers using Alexa. What's crazy is the amount of people that liked his video. Glad nofilmschool brought this to reader's attention

November 24, 2016 at 1:04AM


Oh boy, I don't even know where to start, but let me tell you - your version of color grading in this video looks like a circus. It's a typical "cartoon-for-kids" style of image. The "dull" color grading in Marvel movies is among things that makes them acceptable to watch. They feel more real, which makes it easier for the audience to "experience it" with the actors.

People are tired of Michael-Bay-orange-skink kind of colors. The first part od the new Superman reboot also did it the right way and thank god for that.

They don't look dull, they look GOOD. A superhero movie is not a Gatorade or CocaCola advertisement, deal with it.

November 24, 2016 at 1:08AM


Yeah, his video starts off interesting, then just becomes very inaccurate towards the end. Stating that the Red camera will look better than an Alexa just shows he doesn't quite grasp how the different camera technologies work. You guys have spelt 'Colour' wrong in your article - to be a nit-picking nerd :)

November 24, 2016 at 2:08AM


Red is on a descending slope since the end of the MX. Even Ridley Scott switched to the Alexa for Alien: Covenant. The "shot on Red" section on their website essentially shows movies which used the Red for aerials or some shots. There was a lot of noise around Transformers and the cameras they customized for Bay, but Transformers is not shot primarily on Red, only a few shots. Red had the size and resolution for them, now there is the Alexa Mini and people don't care much about resolution, they want great colors and DR. And this is what Alexa is about.

November 24, 2016 at 3:49AM, Edited November 24, 3:49AM


'Why Do Marvel's Movies Look Kind of Ugly?'
The colour grading is just the icing on the cake imo.
The cinematography and production design are downright lazy and uninspired to me.
I stopped watching Marvel movies a while a go but watched civil war because of all the hype surrounding it. I couldn't believe how unbelievable crappy the overall aesthetic is in the movie. It feels generic to the point of parody.
There is no texture or depth to the images. Most scenes in these movies look like at best, a car commercial, and at worst, an episode of sitcom- just evenly and brightly lit, with no attempt to let the cinematography tell any of the story. All the superheroes wear the same civilian clothes. It honestly feels like marvel movies are just plain, uninspiring images that are handed over to a VFX studio to make interesting.
I couldn't believe the airport scene, mentioned above, when I first saw it. These movies literally have the budget to do anything and they shoot what could be a stand out scene in what essentially looks like an empty parking lot.
And I mean, most of these movies tell the same origin story. Iron man one and two are almost the same goddamn movie. At least try to add variation and depth to your aesthetics!
Like when sound came along and set cinematography back to basics, it's as if CGI is doing the same thing.
It's disappointing because I'm sure plenty of talented people work on these movies, and like them or not they're going to be dominating the multiplexes for the best part of the next decade.

November 24, 2016 at 4:18AM


Hey Charles,
First and about the introducing sequence of Contempt from JL.G. Those 3 colors are red, yellow and blue, so as you know, it could refer to the Romanian flag but certainly not to the french wich is more like blue, white, (an i'm not supremacist) and red. So why the fuck Blue Yellow and Red ? Godard is he finaly a creepy secret soviet romanian spy ? hummm... No.
These colors refers to the antic statuary and dramaturgy trichromy ( hell lotta "Y"). Godard was obsessed with antic ages, specially greeks and he made this ref' in other films like Pierrot Le Fou where he painted himself parts of set with those colors. greeks and others untill middle ages used this colors for two reasons. They were the most simple pigments to find, create and melt to do other tones. And secondly they became across the times, symbolic colors of life or at least of Dramaturgy as the representation of life. the Blue for the nostalgia or freedom, Yellow for spirit/intelligence or arrogance and red for love or hate (note that every color haves a dual pole that makes them positive or negative, depending on the point of view, and that's fucking not told in all those "how to cinematic color grade my stuff 'cause i cant color think it ?") So Godard just tought these colors would repesent the cinéma itself, like theatre successor, and subline of the movie, wich talks about movie making.

Then about Marvel's flat colorgrading, you are right to say it is not a mistake but an esthetical choice, that leads us to an un-thought erea of the debate. Esthetical and political questions are much more linked that we usually think. you here just say "hello this is just so 2000 to do deep blacks and saturated warmer tones" reposing on fashion and not analysing it.
This flat-grading fashion comes from the music clips (and others internet things) where dp's lighten their sets refering to the view of their display solution, screening raw or slog footages un-graded, like if it where standard contrasts on screen. It results by low contrasting at grading time to keep dynamic range cinematic. Politically it reflects the marvel's choices to make the films the most large audience possible. Best proofs for this are the overdominant uses of humor and specialy in dramatic scenes that results by making these often extaordinary moments looks like christmas familly walks along the seaside. You know by an untold pact that your heroes wont die, this is the message. Deep blacks and brigther colors are the clues of a darker End and some more passionated characters... (like in Batman vs superman, comparing comparable stuffs)

Thank you for reading and excuse my english, i'm a french bastard ;)


November 24, 2016 at 5:54AM, Edited November 24, 6:20AM


Damn, well done breakdown of Godard and color: hadn't heard that take before. I think of the middle stripe as "white" based on the color of the bedsheet (it's not graded particularly yellow), but the argument could be made for yellow based on skintone.

The rest of your take on godard and the symbology of color is definitely interesting: I'll need to read up more on that.


November 30, 2016 at 8:59AM

Charles Haine
Filmmaker, Tech Nerd

Apart from all the goofy talk about RED vs. Alexa vs. "Marvel makes a lot of money and should go back to film", the real issue in my view is that he pretends to be scientific about the color of Marvel movies, but the only 'technical' thing he does is use the Photoshop eye dropper on some movie playing on his computer... Ummmm. Two words: VIDEO SCOPE. And don't even get me started about his monitor calbiration/profile, whether or not his computer is converting the video signal from it's NTSC broadcast safe 7.5 IRE back to 0 IRE for display on his relatively high gamut monitor, etc. Ridiculous all around. We all know that TV settings determine the final look in your living room, and that they all add significant contrast and saturation to anything displayed. Maybe the blacks are at 7.5 IRE on his computer monitor, but it's pretty damn likely that they are adjusted to his TV's true black if he was watching the movies as intended—ON A TELEVISION.

November 24, 2016 at 8:17AM


I also wanted to add that his method of determining how the film was lifted has a few flaws. How is he capturing that content? Any chance the blu ray he's ripping this off isn't giving him an accurate image? How is he sure he's grabbing it at the right color space/gamma? This technically could be just as much the fault of whoever authors these Blu rays and his capture method. I also agree that his 'color correction' definitely did not look better.

November 24, 2016 at 1:07PM, Edited November 24, 1:07PM

Brendon Rathbone

You've missed the core of the argument, along with just about everyone commenting and the author of the post as well. It doesn't matter what his gamma settings are - he's saying that all of these films collectively lose something by looking the same. He's not critiquing how any ONE film is graded.

Maybe it's not surprising how you all have gotten so lost in the minutia of color spaces, digital sensors and so on since you keep identifying as "nerds" - sometimes you have to take a step back to see some of the broader trends (as this video does).

November 24, 2016 at 6:31PM


Both the video and this piece is a load of bullshit.

November 26, 2016 at 7:00AM, Edited November 26, 7:00AM

Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor

The reality is that 99% of the discussion about color grading on the web is fueled by opinion and a basic knowledge of editing software.

There's a fan-edit of The Hateful Eight that "fixes" the movie's blue-heavy palette on the assumption that it was some kind of technical error, as if a control freak like Tarantino could have shot something on 70mm and let it hit theaters without it looking exactly like he wanted it to.

TH8 is blue for a reason. Marvel's movies are flat for a reason. Disliking the reasons or the results is fine, but the "it's wrong if I don't like it but I can FIX IT" mentality is dangerously arrogant.

November 27, 2016 at 6:40PM


Steve Scott (who grades the Marvel films) is a great colorist. He's responsible for The Revenant, Birdman, The Help, and other films that looked great.

However, I agree with the video that the Marvel films and their low contrast, desaturated "log gamma look" isn't that nice to look at.

November 28, 2016 at 5:50AM


Haine makes a number of good points, particularly with respect to the contradictions in Willem's video. I found myself scratching my head when he said, in no uncertain terms, that this was a problem encountered in post production, then started arguing that changing from the Alexa to the Red might fix the problem. I thought perhaps he was suggesting that the change in camera somehow signaled a change in attitude towards the overall look of their films, but forgot to include this in his voiceovers.

However, the proof is in the pudding. There are several points in the video where Willem makes his own adjustments to clips from Marvel's movies and, yeah, they do look significantly better.

As for the airport fight... It's true that the airport itself isn't colorful, but the superheroes having a fight out on the tarmac sure as hell are. There's no reason they couldn't pop a bit more, is there?

November 29, 2016 at 1:38AM, Edited November 29, 1:38AM

Clay Smith
Wannabe screenwriter, film editor, director

You start with this title that Mr. Willems video is wrong and then never really address his central point, which is that the "ugliness" of Marvel's movies is a result of the lack of true black in the image, and that this is a aesthetic choice made by the studio.

Mr. Willems doesn't lay out his case very well and I agree that he steps on his own point several times but I think picking out his point around the edges doesn't get us anywhere. Yes, a variety of cameras (most) can produce a beautiful, rich image from their raw footage, we shouldn't even bother entertaining any conversation to the contrary. I raised an eyebrow at the idea that going back to film would help Marvel, BUT I think his point about switching camera's for GOTG 2 is more about a possible change or loosening of standards at Marvel and less about the magic powers of the Red system. If that was his point, it was a dumb point.

You and he seem to agree (A la his point about modern music videos) that this flat desaturated look is currently a popular one (I raise the other eyebrow at the idea that music videos don't treat their raw footage for... laziness? So I agree with you that that his point is almost insulting) Like most popular visual aesthetic styles this look is pushed to the point of absurd in music videos.

His point about using one colorist (A VERY talented man) seemed more about the studio's control and attempt to keep a uniformed look to the universe and less about this one person's influence over the image. Again, I hope. If Mr. Willem's point is that the colorist has some power over the film image I may need to borrow an eyebrow.

So his reasoning is flawed but his claim is a solid one: Marvel's films look "ugly" because Marvel doesn't use a true black and that this look is out of step with both the "comic book aesthetic" and the "big budget extravaganza aesthetic". This is something I agree with and your video doesn't address.

Just to head this off at the pass... I very much enjoy the desaturated look and think it can be employed to fantastic effect. I also put ugly in quotes because this is a subjective conversation. However, I do agree that it seems out of step with the comic book world of Marvel.

I'll avoid nit-picking your video but will point out that color timing is a long standing industry practice that is as old as cinema itself, something you don't directly deny but it FAR predates Contempt. I, like you, enjoy this type of visual aesthetics conversation and think that anything that gets filmmakers talking more about the elements of the visual language, is a good thing. Thanks for the video and for your reply.

December 2, 2016 at 3:51PM


Everyone in the comment section and 75% of this article talks about the inaccuracies of his statements to do with the colourist, the camera types etc. which are quite irrelevant to the argument. The point is the film, particularly that airport scene is very bland, flat and boring. The video explains that this type of bland, flat image is used to create realism and create a sense of seriousness. This is unnecessary for a Marvel film where we have a man flying around with a suit of armour that has rockets, and a man with a 'magical bow' (and please don't nitpick if these are wrong because that would be completely irrelevant). Someone in the comments said "there's not need to make every human more appealing" but that's the point; they're not humans. This isn't an episode of Grey's Anatomy. This is a superhero movie. We don't want bland and flat. We don't want our superheroes to look like little figurines while a toddler plays with them on his car mat and makes 'pew pew' sounds. Because that's what they look like while they blend into the background and become the mush of concrete that it is both literally and visually. That scene, in particular, looks like some people cosplay dressed up as the characters and took a picture on their iPhone. Ignoring picture quality; I'm talking about lighting, colour, depth etc. of which the scene is lacking. My first thought when I watched the trailer was how unprofessional and its lack of 'Hollywood style' that such high budget films should show off. I admit I don't religiously follow every corner of the Marvel universe and I don't know every little detail of the cameras and digital effects. But as a film enthusiast, I can appreciate well-graded film and this does not cut it for a budget of $250 million.

March 28, 2017 at 8:37PM, Edited March 28, 8:37PM


This rebuttal is arguably more flawed than the video. It aims to counter the YouTuber's argument, but makes points that are tangential at best in order to pad out the article and seem more authoritative than it is. For example, when color grading started isn't pertinent to the topic and presenting a slightly adjusted starting point comes down to trivia. Also, the discussion of who the colorist is for Marvel is irrelevant and attempts to make it seem otherwise appear to be "appealing to authority". In fact the entire article boils down to "it looks ugly on purpose" which, while possibly true, doesn't diminish the points that the YouTuber made.

June 5, 2017 at 2:10PM


They are color correcting films to look the way real life looks, like they did before Orange and Teal and other crap color corrections came along. They are color correcting it like The Thing, Halloween, ET, Star Trek II and every other movie has since the 60's. Even the WB changed the Orange and Teal look back to normal colors in downloadable versions of Batman VS Superman. All those stupid looks are played out, dated and stupid looking. We used to call them "Guy don't know how to white balance his video camera"

April 27, 2018 at 8:26AM


I am not a colorist (my focus is writing), so my views my not be relevant here ... Still, I appreciate the range of creative options and the different approaches to creating visual world character. So, it was interesting to read this alternative to the referenced video.

I really need to add in a shout out for Ang Lee's "Hulk", though - described in this article as "wildly unpopular". There are many people who agree that it is underrated, and there is much to appreciate about it. A quick google search yields a plethora of praise.

Some fans of the comic book character Hulk claimed disappointment at minimal action scenes. However, a minute-for-minute comparison with the subsequent reboot shows that there is actually more action in Ang Lee's version. The reboot is officially part of the MCU, yet the only carry-over seems to be William Hurt as General/Secretary Ross, with everyone accepting Mark Ruffolo's Banner/Bane as the standard. This suggests that the reboot is not even so popular with its creators.

Regarding mimicking comic book visual effects on screen, personally I liked the multiple panels/shots use in Ang Lee's Hulk, which were interesting storytelling choices that gave me layers to appreciate. Similarly, Kenneth Brannagh's Thor specifically and sparingly used Dutch angles, color palettes and framing to pay homage to the original format, but also to give a stripped back Shakespearean telling of this God of Thunder. If anyone wants more insight to Sir Ken's decisions, I recommend watching the film with his commentary. He's a delight to listen to.

Overall: while it's immensely satisfying to recognize and connect with creative choices being made in someone's version of (particularly) a popular story/character; it's important to be open to different ideas, which might not be the choices we would have made but could have merit in the context they are presented - and we just haven't considered that context properly yet.

There is big difference in saying something is "bad/wrong" rather than "it didn't work for me" or "it didn't work because ...", or even "I see what they're going for, but what if they tried xxxxx instead ..."

April 28, 2018 at 7:59PM


Quick afterthought on Avengers: Infinity War ... I thought it was quite often visually stunning; they took us to many different locations; the colors and contrasts exuded atmosphere and mood; with so many book-to-screen characters and environments to bring together, I never felt there was a misstep in color/character pairings. A visual feast in many ways!

April 29, 2018 at 12:04AM


I like the use of a color blind director (Refn) as an example in a post about colorgrading.

April 29, 2018 at 7:53PM

Sean Loftin